06/19/2013 12:03 PM
T-Bones President Adam Ehlert (left) talks with first base coach Frank White before a game. (File photo by Matthew Hicks.)
By EMILY PARK
On a beautiful June afternoon overlooking a freshly manicured field with the smell of freshly cut grass, hot dogs and summer, a forever baseball fan – the man behind the T-Bones – is living his dream come true in Kansas City.
Adam Ehlert, President of the T-Bones, spent his childhood in Minnesota watching the Twins at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
Glancing back into some of his fondest and most unforgettable memories, Ehlert recalled the 1987 and ‘91 World Series, when he first experienced the “homer hankie.”
“It was amazing to see the whole place waving those little white hankies,” Ehlert said. “That’s really where I leaned the value of sponsorship, as I can still picture the Minneapolis Star Tribune logo on all 60,000 hankies.”
In spite of his love for baseball he wasn’t one to play. Ehlert says with a chuckle that he led his fourth-grade little league team with a 4.35 ERA. A few years later, when his limbs began to grow faster than his muscles, he was left behind, his lean and tall stature hurting his game. But, he found his place in the stands with his father John, soaking up what would soon become his future.
Adam Ehlert pursued an interest in political science and traveled to Washington D.C. to attend American University. After graduating, Ehlert didn’t jump right into the baseball business. Instead, he made use of his degree by working at a lobbying firm and on political campaigns in Minnesota.
His career in politics didn’t last long, as Ehlert, his father and brothers confidently bought the Duluth-Superior Dukes after the 2000 season. They didn’t know, however, there was much more to learn about the business of baseball than they thought.
“When we bought the team, my dad and I were in Minneapolis and we went through about six months of us standing there scratching our heads,” Ehlert said.
Ehlert moved to Duluth in June 2001, and started as the Dukes’ Director of Sales to learn about small business and the demographics of the team’s fans. He assumed the role of General Manager for the 2002 season.
Ehlert said there was a great sense of history at the Historic Wade Stadium, where the original Dukes played in the 1940s. The stadium helped to draw some attention to the Dukes, but they were unable to stay competitive or stay viable as a business compared to what was happening in baseball around the area, meaning it was time for a change.
In 2002, a move was in progress with several cities in sight. Following in the heels of the International Speedway Corporation, Cabela’s and Nebraska Furniture Mart, the Village West area in Wyandotte County was the perfect fit for the Ehlerts and their team. To ensure they didn’t threaten with competition, CommunityAmerica Ballpark was placed strategically on the opposite side of the city from the Kansas City Royals.
“We chose Kansas City because it is a major-league city and the obvious sense of baseball history it has,” Ehlert said. “Independent baseball has a good home in major-league cities because we’re a professional baseball alternative at a drastically different price point.”
Ehlert said baseball fans had a preconceived notion that Wyandotte County was too far away. In spite of this, the T-Bones’ popularity grew immensely as fans realized the distance was relative. Since the “first” first pitch on June 6, 2003, he said fan support has been terrific, but as Ehlert is quick to point out, it didn’t come automatically.
“It takes a great deal of preparation and daily work through the off season to get there,” he said. “I can’t thank and congratulate our staff strongly enough.”
Ehlert moved from Director of Sales of the Dukes to the President of the Kansas City T-Bones where — much to his surprise — he found this career to be a dream come true.
“My goals are to ensure that we are consistent to our product, which is offering a terrific product on the field and offering our players and coaching staff all the tools they need to succeed,” Ehlert said. “Additionally, my role is to look at further growth potential and ensure that we are cutting edge in our overall product. I am very proud that we offer a great return for our advertisers, as demonstrated by our strong attendance (top-three in all of independent baseball), each season.”
Ehlert said the T-Bones are solidifying their place on the changing landscape of independent baseball and in Kansas City. As the surrounding areas continue to grow, Ehlert, with joy in his voice, is excited to see what the second decade of T-Bones baseball has in store.
“As the teams (his T-Bones and the rival Sioux City Explorers) warm up and practice on this June day, as you can see, I’m thrilled to be here,” Ehlert said. “It’s what we’ve been dreaming of – ‘Fun, Well Done,’ into the second decade.”